Colerain Township Trustee Dennis Joseph Deters has replaced Greg Hartmann on the Hamilton County Commission, giving him the leg up of incumbency heading into a tough election that could shift the political axis on Court Street. You could just hear Democrats whining: Aren’t Republicans just playing the name game? Using the primo name recognition of long-time Prosecutor Joe Deters to bootstrap his brother’s first countywide campaign and preserve the GOP Commission majority?

Of course they are. But what else is new here in Hamilton County?

We are a town where roots run deep. In Cincinnati, the first question of a new acquaintance often is “Where did you go to high school?”

So it should be no surprise that once a political name takes root here, it can span generations and impact the course of local and even national history. 

Of course, the foremost Cincinnati political brand was the Taft clan: William Howard Taft, president from 1909-13, who fell victim to resigner’s remorse when his mentor and predecessor Teddy Roosevelt launched his “Bull Moose” third party campaign in 1912. By splitting the GOP vote, TR greased the electoral skids for Democrat Woodrow Wilson. “Big Bill” went on to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, a not-too-shabby post-presidential plum. 

Bill’s son, Robert A. “Mr. Republican” Taft, the anti-labor isolationist, served in the Senate from 1939 to 1953. Bob tried mightily to keep the U.S. out of World War II, and was frustrated in his own effort to win the White House. Bob’s son, Robert A. Taft Jr., represented the east side of Cincinnati in Congress before serving in the Senate for a single term in the 1970s. Bob Jr. lost his seat amidst the Watergate brouhaha in 1976. His son, Robert A. Taft II, a former Hamilton County commissioner, was elected Ohio secretary of state and then twice governor, though the brand was tarnished by a seemingly trivial ethics violation at the end of his second term. 

My favorite Taft was Charlie, Big Bill’s younger son and Bob’s brother, who was a bit of a renegade. I knew him as a rather eccentric Charterite Cincinnati City Council member in the 1970s, when I worked at City Hall as a summer intern. Charlie’s car, with a canoe on top, was often parked in front of City Hall. He listened to Big Red Machine World Series games during Council sessions. Charlie served as county prosecutor, and went on to become Cincinnati mayor in the

 1950s. He served more than 28 years on city council, until 1977. Charlie’s tomb at Spring Grove cemetery reads “Gone Fishing.” Ahh, that canoe!

Democrats know how to play the name game, too. Consider the Mallory clan, starting with the patriarch, the late Bill Mallory, a civil rights icon who served for many years in the Ohio House of Representatives. His sons, Bill and Dwane, are now judges in the Hamilton County Municipal Court. His son Dale succeeded him in the Ohio House of Representatives. His son Mark served in the Ohio Senate and for two terms as Cincinnati mayor. 

And of course there are the Lukens: Father Tom, a former Cincinnati mayor, councilmember and congressman starting in the 1970s; his brother Jim, a former Teamsters Union leader who also served in the Ohio House, on city council and as mayor in the 1970s; and Tom’s son Charlie, a two-time Cincinnati mayor and congressman.Charlie lost his last “when clans collide” campaign for probate court judge in 2014 to a member of the Winkler clan.

So no one should be shocked that the GOP has played the name game in 2016 to retain its County Commission majority. After all, the Democratic Commission candidate, state Rep. Denise Driehaus, has some name cache of her own; her brother Steve also served in the state legislature and for a single term in Congress from 2008-10.